Remembering John August Anonby

Underlined in John’s Gospel (fittingly, in John Anonby’s Bible) are these words: “I have come that you may have life and life to the full.” Today we attest that John August Anonby took Jesus up on his offer, life to the full.

Some years ago I was over at John and Elizabeth’s for supper. At one point I remarked on a photo on the wall of a mountain. “Where’s that?”, I asked, “Oh, we took that on one of our trips up Mount Kenya.” “One of?” I asked, “How many times did you climb it?” They looked at one another the way couples long married do when trying to remember various details of ancient exploits. Too many mountains climbed and paths taken to remember everything. Life to the full. John might be one of the last of his kind. Husband, father, grandfather, pioneer, scholar, missionary, mountaineer – the list goes on. Today we’ve heard that John got the very most out of life, mixing purpose, play, passion and service just right. Now and then you meet someone and have to say, there’s a life well lived.

I remember John for his energy. On men’s retreats he was always pushing for the hike, out there even when he probably shouldn’t have been. Even as the mind began to slip, the body’s muscle memory leapt into action. Life to the full knows little of limitation when a hike’s on the schedule. I remember John for his warmth and intellect. I would speak to him at church about the poets I was reading, or the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, and he always made me feel as though we were peers swapping notes. Truly intelligent people engage you, they don’t make you feel stupid, caring more about discussion and discovery and you than they do about sounding clever. So yes, John was energetic, intelligent, adventurous, accomplished. But more than that, he seemed to me humble and obviously prayerful. He always thanked me for the sermon, always had something specific to say about the subject matter, always looked in my eyes, making me feel appreciated. For all the peaks John had ascended, he was never lofty.

Someone once said that our job as Christians is to put one another in touch with God. John had that way about him, as his children have shared. And it’s a life truly marked by Jesus’ life which points not just the onlooker or pupil in God’s direction, but one’s own children. That’s the hard part. Children see everything, so when they report to us that John put them in touch with the real God, it says something.

“Life and life to the full“. Of course Jesus means eternal life. Life after life. But Jesus’ walking and talking amongst us also tells us that the Kingdom has already turned up. What I mean is, when we take Jesus up on his offer, we don’t wait to become truly alive once we die. Saving trust in Jesus is not all hell avoidance, heavenly security and thumb twiddling. Saving trust in Jesus is life to the full then, and now. John knew about it, and he’s is a good example for us all. Of course, John was a sinner like the rest of us, we mustn’t overly sanitize him. But still he gives us a glimpse of what life might be should we take Jesus at his word and give ourselves to his purposes. Many have shared that John enjoyed life and that that enjoyment sprang from the life-giver of all things. We can safely say that John enjoyed God, and would encourage us by simple example to do the same.

What kind of God did John know? What kind of God shaped him? A kind one, a humble one, a fiercely intelligent one, a wonderfully interesting and creative one. Maybe the kind of God who shares with you his name on a mountainside, holding together dazzling beauty and startling humility all within his person. This God got John truly living long before he died – life to the full. That’s our simple encouragement today. Through Jesus, life to the full, now. Some avoid God. Others overly fear God. Some of us even work a bit too hard for God, unnecessarily. Let us today enjoy God. Enjoy the goodness of creation, the security which comes with putting our lives in Jesus’ hands. Even in our grief today, life to the full is the offer for us all. So, taking John’s example to heart, maybe we leave today less morose, and more inspired; leave today a little more interested in the God we might meet on the mountainside, or in the smile over coffee and cake. John has already put us in touch with God, we can continue that connection now. Can we open our hearts today a little more to the Life Giver? 

We’re of course happy John’s now at rest now from the struggle. But you have to wonder how much rest John will take in eternity. We should have no doubt that John will be enjoying God now and later in the new heavens and new earth, whatever that will be. Maybe one day, while we’re bowed low singing holy, holy, holy, John will rise with a smile and whisper, “Come on, let’s worship on the way up that mountain. I’ve not climbed that one yet.”